Gerry Conlon - 7/7 Crime & Prejudice - Guardian Unlimited online - The Independent online - In the Name of the Father 1993 - Rough Justice & Alastair Logan TV -
Recent events have cast into sharp relief the crisis in our criminal justice system. First there was the abandonment of the trial of three West Midland police officers on charges of perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice. Then a woman was awarded £25,000 in damages after being subjected to verbal and physical abuse by police officers who had arrested her in flagrant abuse of their powers and given perjured evidence at her trial. Then the Home Secretary announced the abolition of the right to silence for detained persons held in police stations. Then a man who had been ‘verballed’ by West Midlands Police was awarded £70,000 in damages, after the fact that his interview notes had been forged was revealed by an EDSA test; he was the twentieth person to have had his conviction quashed in a case in which the investigating officers belonged to the Serious Crime Squad of that force. Most recently, the Home Secretary’s proposal to send more people to prison has been attacked by prison governors and half a dozen of the country’s senior judges.
The abandonment of the trial of the West Midlands police officers had been preceded by the trial of three Surrey police officers for perjury and attempting to pervert the course of justice – the trial was described in Ronan Bennett’s ‘Criminal Justice’ (LRB 24th June) which also raised the question of the trial of the West Midlands policemen.＊As solicitor to Partick Armstrong, one of the Guildford Four, since his arrest in 1974, I am very concerned about the way in which the trial of the three Surrey officers was approached by the prosecution, the defence and the judge, Mr Justice Macpherson.
To begin by recapping the events described by Bennett. In the aftermath of the release of the Guildford Four in 1989 the Director of Public Prosecutions instituted criminal proceedings against three Surrey police officers who had formed the team interviewing Patrick Armstrong. They were charged with conspiring to pervert the course of justice, the allegation being that they had given perjured evidence at the trial of the Guildford Four, during which they had claimed that a document they produced was a contemporaneous record of Mr Armstrong’s confession. The Crown case was that the document could not have been original and contemporaneous because it was the product of two earlier drafts that had been discovered by Avon and Somerset Police in May 1989. The document, the Crown alleged, was created to back up the police officers’ version of the interrogation, to create the impression that the information contained in Armstrong’s confession had been volunteered by him.
Since there was no evidence against the Guildford Four apart from their confessions, and since their defence was that they had falsely confessed, the credibility of the police officers was always crucial to the Crown case. During their trial in 1975 Mr Armstrong told the court, and refused to budge from his assertions despite rigorous cross-examination from Sir Michael Havers, that the content of his confessions had been largely suggested to him by the police officers and that he had said what they wanted him to say because their violence had terrified him and reduced him to tears. Mr Armstrong denied that the police officers had made a verbatim record, as they claimed at the trial, or that the ‘contemporaneous’ document was an accurate record of the interview. The officers were unable to say why it hadn’t been shown to Mr Armstrong and why he hadn’t been invited to sign it. The other defendants gave similar accounts of the violence. They were convicted because the jury chose to believe the police.
At the original trial the explosions at Guildford and Woolwich in October and November 1974 had been presented by the Crown as isolated acts of terrorism unconnected with any other event. That, to the Crown’s knowledge at the time, was untrue. The arrest of the IRA Active Service Unit in Balcombe Street in December 1975 required the prosecution to present a case against them which depended, apart from the admissions by two of the ASU, on the numerous forensic links to the offences which started in August 1974 and finished on their arrest. These links were identical to the forensic evidence discovered during the investigation into the Guildford and Woolwich offences and clearly demonstrated that Woolwich and Guildford were part of a connected series of events for which the Guildford Four could not have been responsible. The Crown went to extraordinary lengths during the course of the Balcombe Street trial to conceal these links. It even instructed Crown forensic scientists – as one was to testify to Sir John May – to alter their statements to remove reference to the evidence which connected the Guildford and Woolwich offences to the other crimes.
At the unsuccessful appeal of the Guildford Four in 1977, the Court of Appeal was content to accept the truth of the admissions of the Balcombe Street defendants. Their detailed confessions provided a wealth of hitherto unknown detail that exactly matched police forensic information and could only have been known to those who carried out the Guildford and Woolwich offences. Despite their admissions, no attempt was made by the police to interview the Balcombe Street defendants for these offences. The Surrey Police did send DCI Thomas Style, one of the three officers put on trial, to interview them, but despite their admissions to DCI Peter Imbert and the existence of a forensic statement which intimately linked the Guildford bombings to the Caterham bombing, DCI Style failed to ask them a single question about the Guildford bombings. No one was to tell the jury at his trial about this signal omission. Alastair Logan, essay A Sewer Runs Through It
I felt the rush of happiness and warmth coming out of the people and I was carried out among them on a surge of joy. I suppose when you die and go to heaven you get a feeling like that. Gerry Conlon, Proved Innocent 1990
The life sentence goes on. It’s like a runaway train that you can’t just get off. Gerry Conlon, Irish Post 13th September 1997
The likely culprits of the pub bombings were the Balcom Street Gang who admitted at a theft trial in 1977 that they were responsible, and the Guildford 4 were innocent. It was another twelve years before it was established that the police manipulated their notes from their interviews with the Guildford 4. 7/7: Crime & Prejudice
After the incredulity and then the euphoria of release from jail, the four people who had served 15 years for the Guildford pub bombings in 1974 had to find a life. Three are now married with families but the years of adjustment have been painful.
Ten years ago today the only thing that mattered was when Lord Lane, the lord chief justice, pronounced those magic words: the convictions of Gerry Conlon, Carole Richardson, Paul Hill and Paddy Armstrong were ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’.
Conlon, a wild and wiry bundle of suppressed energy with delirious sisters on either arm, was the only one to face the crowds outside the front door of the Old Bailey. He punched the air in defiance and ran the wrong way down the street. Just like a confused animal, his lawyer thought. Conlon was then 35.
Richardson, 17 at the time of her arrest, was shocked and weak at the knees. She and her former boyfriend, Armstrong, disappeared separately out the back. She just wanted to hide. Hill, who was still serving life for a murder in Northern Ireland, was taken to Crumlin Road prison in Belfast and bailed two days later.
Theirs was the first of the momentous Irish miscarriage of justice cases which convulsed the criminal justice system and led to a rare royal commission. The crisis of confidence was encapsulated in one of Lord Lane’s concluding remarks: ‘The officers must have lied.’ Guardian Unlimited online article David Pallister 19th October 1999, ‘Guildford Four: 10 Years on an injustice that still reverberates’
Twenty-five years after four young people were wrongfully convicted of the Guildford pub bombings in 1974, Tony Blair has become the first person in authority to apologise for the miscarriage of justice.
In a letter to Courtney Kennedy Hill, the American wife of Paul Hill, one of the Guildford four, he said he was ‘very sorry’ they were wrongly imprisoned.
Details of the apology were revealed in a special two-part edition of BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme last night which told Mr Hill’s story.
Mr Hill, Gerry Conlon, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson were given life sentences for bombing public houses in Guildford, Surrey. Each spent 15 years in prison before their convictions were overturned by the court of appeal in 1989. Guardian Unlimited article 6th June 2000
16,755. The Guildford Four miscarriage of justice was due to individual failings among police and prosecutors and not inbuilt weaknesses in the system, the May inquiry into the affair has concluded.
Sir John May spent four and a half years deliberating on the case which shattered confidence in the British legal system, but his conclusions were greeted with disappointment. Chris Mullin, the MP who campaigned on behalf of the Four, said they were a ‘near perfect replica of the official position’ while Alistair Logan, solicitor for two of the Four, said they did not add to knowledge of the affair. The Independent online article Terry Kirby 1st July 1994